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Manpura fishermen


Beginning of August 2019

Manpura Island is one of the southernmost islands in the Ganges Delta and is currently benefiting from Bangladesh’s economic boom. The island is known for its coconuts and is covered with agricultural land. Goats and zebus graze on every open space. Next to most farms is a pond, which is often used for bathing and washing. Between the ponds, dams create an infrastructure that connects the houses with other houses or roads.

On Manpura Island, one can understand why Bangladeshis like to call their country the “darling child of nature”: Abandoned building ruins are in the hands of green nature again in no time, paths that are not kept clear are soon overgrown again.
However, there is no lack of people using public and private land in Bangladesh. Every patch is used, wild mangrove forests grow on some coastal strips and between villages, but even these are collected as fodder by leaf-gathering women and girls for domestic purposes. The greenery is lush, but it is planted, agricultural greenery for the benefit of farmers and markets. The farmers are engaged in subsistence farming, surplus is taken to the market. They store the seeds in their stockpile for the next season and only sometimes buy hybrid seeds on the market, which are considered better in yield than the indigenous plant species. In taste it is said to be inferior to the domestic varieties.

Seeds are kept in bulbous clay pots, which provide an optimum climate inside these clay pots. A few years ago, the awareness of the importance of keeping one’s own seeds was little in the minds of the people.
seed keeping was not very present in the minds of the farmers. Many of them did not even have this kind of stockpiling. Since the problem has become known, however, a lot of earthenware is being bought from potters again. As a result, they are experiencing a new boom in sales of their handicraft products. In this way, a rethinking of how to deal with one’s own resources also creates new sustainable approaches in regional value creation. The island provides a livelihood not only for farmers, but also for numerous fishermen who moor their boats in canals or on the edge of the island and wait for the tide to make the canals navigable again. Manpura lies in the area of the Ganges Delta, where the tides cause salt water and fresh water to flow through its channels every six hours.

On our first exploration tour of the island, we saw some fishermen’s families working on their boats or near their boats. If they are not on the boats at the moment, they are at home. Then they are busy with their gardens, where potatoes, mustard, maize, lentils and onions are grown for domestic use.

On islands like those created by the Ganges, fishermen are always the first to dare to take over the land. Drawing: Claudius Günther, 2019
Fishermen rest wile midday heat on the mainland. They only fish in the in the morning or evening. Drawing: Claudius Günther, 2019

Rubel, our translator, my son and I were able to make contact with one of the fishing groups. They had laid out the night’s catch to dry and left their nets on the water so that they could haul them in again (hopefully full) in the evening. So it was just the in-between time of the day that they used to take a siesta between trips.
Our conversation revealed the following: The fishermen fish with nets, which they cast near the shore early in the morning and haul in again in the afternoon evening. Sometimes they go further out and stay on the boat for 4 to 5 days. The fish they catch is either sold immediately at the market, a day’s trip yields about 20 euros per head. Between 40 and 50 kilograms of fish end up in their nets. Most of it they dry.

The fishermen have to cope with a number of problems. When they are on the rivers, storms sometimes shake the boat, which scares them so much that they promise to make sacrifices if they get home safely.
promise to make sacrifices if they return home safely. Storms bring fatalities, fishermen fall off the boat and then do not make it back to the boats. During storms, the whole family is worried. Sometimes the fishermen do not come back and the bodies of drowned fishermen cannot be found.
The boat they use has been in use for about 10 to 15 years. Then it is usually no longer usable. Salt water attacks the planks and they have to be constantly renewed, even if tar is put on from time to time. The fishermen do minor work on their boats themselves, but if they have bigger problems, specialists come to the boats, as in the case of engine problems or major carpentry work. Every boat fishes with lamps, mostly electric ones, but in the past they were paraffin lamps. This light serves as a warning signal for them and also for the other boats. Usually several boats go fishing together, because the nets and the boats for the nets are so big that they do not fit on the main boat.

They currently catch chori mach (knife fish), shell fish (from China), shrimp, kural fish (axe fish), pangash (pangasius), hilsha. Which species they catch depends on the depth of the net and the weather in which they fish. They use fish traps (current fish), but also normal nets. When they cook at sea, they cook fish with vegetables they bring with them, such as onions.

Aki Nur

Aki Nur is one of our neighbours in Manpura. She makes mats from the shitul bush, called shitul pathi, and buys her raw materials in Hatyia. She has not planted any shitul pathi shrub at home. She needs 100 thaka (about one euro) for one pon (bundle of 80) shitul fibres.

Aki Nur and her mats, Photo: Claudius Günther, 2019

She weaves the mats within 4 to 5 days, if she does not include the household. If she includes the household, she needs more days, maybe 10. She makes the pathi alone, no one helps.
Sometimes her mother-in-law helps to make the mats. When she was still living unmarried in Hatiya, all her family members could weave these mats. The shitul braids are dried, boiled and dyed. One mat costs at least 800 thaka, the larger ones cost 1500 thaka. She has been making the braided mats since she was 7 or 8 years old. Today she is about 21 years old. However, she learned the art mainly from her mother. Her parents have been in Hatiya for a long time, living there for years. They use many different designs in the mats, but most of the designs are from Hatiya. The colour in the braid remains until the last day, even if they break. However, the colouring takes only one to one and a half hours in cold water. They make some the designs according to their own specifications, do not look up on the net or use any books for it. The Shitul Straúch rarely grows in Manpura, most of of these plants are found in Hatiya. They do not sell their mats in Hatiya but only in Manpura. Sometimes they make mats as gifts for neighbours, sometimes as a commodity for for sale. They need the mats mainly for the wedding ceremony as trousseaus for their daughters.

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